Sermon of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon at Liturgy for the 20th Anniversary of the Return of the Tikhvin Icon

Sermon of His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon
at Liturgy for the
20th Anniversary of the Return of the Tikhvin Icon
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Chicago, Illinois
June 26, 2024

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We are fortunate that the Mother of God, in her great love for us, has given us so many feast days on which to celebrate her grace, her protection, her role in our salvation, and her motherly love. We celebrate the events of her life, her conception and nativity, entrance into the temple and annunciation, her meeting in the temple and her dormition. We also celebrate her protection with its own special feast. More than this, the entire year’s calendar is adorned with celebrations of her holy images, so that rarely do a few weeks pass without a feast day dedicated to the Theotokos. For us in the Orthodox Church in America, certainly one of the most special and beloved of these sacred icons celebrated each year is her Tikhvin icon.

The original Tikhvin icon, kept in Chicago for so many years before being returned home two decades ago, was exceptionally well-traveled. Painted, according to holy Tradition, by the Apostle and Evangelist Luke, she went from Jerusalem to Constantinople in the fifth century. Taking up residence in the Queen of Cities, she dwelt in the Church at Blachernae for nearly a millennium. However, miraculously, in the late 1300s, she began to appear at different locations near Novgorod the Great before settling in Tikhvin.

These extensive travels of the original Tikhvin Icon serve to remind us of two realities: that the Mother of God is with us, no matter where we are in the world; and that the Mother of God is with us, no matter where we find ourselves in historical time.

In Alexander Blok’s poem “The Twelve,” the figure of Our Lord appears at the end, clad in white, just out of reach of the ragtag revolutionary mob:

With gentle step, above the storm,
In the scattered, pearl-like snow,
Crowned with a wreath of roses white,
Ahead of them—goes Jesus Christ.

In a similar way, the Tikhvin Icon seems to have always kept one step ahead of history’s disasters and tumults, escaping the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land, the fall of Constantinople, and the predations of the Soviets.

Because Christ’s kingdom belongs to the future age, it cannot be touched by the ravages of time. Likewise, the protection of the Mother of God is omnipresent and invincible. Love is stronger than death, and her love for her children cannot be overcome by mortality.

No matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves, she is watching over us. She prays for our bodily needs, certainly, but her protection is ultimately oriented towards the one thing needful: salvation and eternal joy in her Son Jesus Christ.

God is with us, as the prophet proclaims, and he is with us through his Incarnation: he is with us through his Mother.

Though the kingdom of Christ is not subject to history, to time, to death, it is nevertheless revealed amid the changes of this mortal world. And so the Theotokos also reveals herself to us in many times and places, in many holy icons, and in so doing she always points us toward her Son.

The Tikhvin icon belongs to a class of icons called Hodegetria, “She Who Shows the Way.” As we can see, she is gesturing with her hand toward her Son, pointing us away from the perishing world and its follies and towards the Eternal One, whom she cradles in her arm.

Therefore, as we celebrate the Tikhvin icon, the apostolic masterpiece, the inheritance of Byzantium, the treasure of Russia, the joy the Chicago, we are called to encounter, not an historical artifact, but eternity in the moment, God in the present, salvation in the now.

No matter where or when we find ourselves, no matter our troubles, no matter our grief, no matter our pain, our sorrow, our sighing—no matter what, God is with us, coming to us through his Mother, she who is the gate facing east, the gate of the dawn.

And so today, now, in this place, at this pilgrimage, we turn to our most holy and most pure Lady with our prayer:

Most holy Theotokos, loving mother of us wayward and erring people, through thy Tikhvin icon shine upon us with the light of Christ.

Mother of Immanuel, Mother of the God-man, make the scales of earthly cares to fall away from our eyes. Grant us to perceive, amidst things fallen and perishing, the gladness and hope of eternity.

O Mother of the Light, never let us forget that we have seen the true Light, which the darkness of this passing world cannot overcome.

O most holy Lady, help us so that, with senses purified, we might behold, even in this age, the glory of the kingdom that has no end: the kingdom of thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and of his Father and his all-holy Spirit, to whom are due all dominion and adoration, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Most holy Theotokos, save us!

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